Century Ceramics

For collectors of Decorative
British Art Pottery

The Beginnings Of British Art Pottery
John Ruskin, Oscar Wilde, William Morris, Christopher Dresser


John Ruskin

John Ruskin
1819 - 1900

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde
1854 - 1900

Christopher Dresser

Christopher Dresser
1834 - 1904

William Morris

William Morris
1834 - 1896


By the late 1870's Art Potteries, both large and small, were springing up all over Britain. In just a few years of frantic endeavour the art wares they produced won awards all over the world. The legacy left to us in both diversity and quality of wares is truly staggering.

View a potters history by clicking on one of the links below

John Ruskin - The Critic

The Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in 1851 was deemed a great success; however ceramics in general suffered from a lack of any new coherent designs. The over elaborate, moulded decorations and transfer printing, relied heavily on inspirations from an ambiguous antiquity, by now a well trodden path. The over use of the mechanical process also discouraged the potters spontaneity.

By the early 1860s pottery making in England, as a means of individual artistic expression had become all but dead. The manufacturers now on show became easy targets for a new school of reformist artists and designers, such as Christopher Dresser, Henry Cole, Owen Jones and Richard Redgrave, but it was the art critic John Ruskin who put the growing discontent into words.

During the 1850s John Ruskin became convinced of inherent ugliness of objects produced in modern factories. In his much publicised book, ‘ The Stones of Venice’ Ruskin proclaimed "Workers could not produce beautiful things if they were enslaved to the mechanical process." and that "Craftsman were sacrificed by the modern desire for engine turned precision". His writings struck a chord with both the public, and the men of industry and the debate now widened into the national press.

Oscar Wilde - The Publicist

Oscar Wilde had studied under Ruskin at Oxford, and moved to London in 1878, where using Ruskin's philosophy, with some embellishments Oscar took to the streets.

He appointed himself the apostle of the new aesthetic movement a perfect vehicle for Oscar's notions of higher sensibilities a platform to inform and instruct on how to embellish the home with objects of beauty and artistic integrity. The subject now much in vogue, allowed Oscar to lecture widely, his dazzling wit enthralled both fashionable society and the plain curious. His lectures on art gave people clear instructions "A good rule to follow in the house is to have nothing therein but what is useful or beautiful-nothing that is not pleasant to use, or was not a pleasure to the one who made it." The public were won over by his sheer genius.

The national press quoted from his lectures and speeches and Oscar's fame grew. Oscar now found himself invited to take his lectures on a tour of America. Through his lectures, he inspired ordinary people to consider decorating there homes with furnishings made by craftsman, and to enjoy the pleasure of owning beautiful objects that were hand made. For the traditional potter in England, the arts & crafts movement elevated his position from humble craftsman, to ceramic artist. This encouraged new pottery designs to have a greater freedom of creativity.

Christopher Dresser - The Designer

In many ways Dresser is the forgotten man. He was a designer across the whole range of design, from furniture to textiles, metal work and of course ceramics. He was the first to establish a design studio to create and sell designs to industry. As a visionary his designs anticipated the nature of cubism and purism and through his work he made art products accessible to the greater public, something which William Morris in his own life time never really achieved.

His first known designs in ceramics were shown by Minton's in 1862 at the International Exhibition in London. The same event showed a collection of Japanese ornamentation assembled by Sir Rutherford Alcock the British ambassador to Japan. Dressers fascination with Japanese art, is clearly evident in is designs for Linthorpe and Ault. He became a true master of simple shape and form, and visited Japan in 1877.

Apart from Minton and Wedgwood, Dresser also designed for Old Hall and Ault. His greatest achievement was arguably the creation of Linthorpe pottery, where he was Art director for three years. He is believed to have worked for many other firms, but the evidence is sketchy. His work rate like Morris was prolific and it is unfortunate that historians have used William Morris alone, for the icon of this creative period, at the expense of the equally talented Christopher Dresser.

William Morris - The Activist/Writer/Poet/Designer/Manufacturer/Retailer

When William Morris was dying one of his doctors diagnosed his disease as "simply being William Morris, and having done more work than most ten men" and his sheer diversity of endeavours were truly staggering.

On coming of age in 1855 he inherited shares that provided him with a substantial income, and in 1861 Morris formed a partnership with his friends Marshall and Faulkner. Morris and his colleagues drew inspiration from the ‘medieval’ period of many different countries. Reviving the old traditional crafts, they sought commissions to redecorate houses and to retail the goods that they were producing.

On the subject of ceramics, his influence and guiding spirit helped his close friend William de Morgan set up his pottery, having at first produced designs for Morris in stained glass. De Morgan's new wares were now being sold through Morris's London showrooms.

Morris claimed to have been particularly successful in the revival of the art of painting on china tiles styled in a similar manner to ancient majolica and Dutch Delft. Morris imported the blank tiles ready glazed from Holland; they were then decorated by his in-house painters. De Morgan took tile decoration into a new dimension with his unique designs of mythological creatures, galleons, birds, fish, flowing floral patterns and others all glazed in rich lustre colours, the lost process re- discovered in his own works.

One of Morris's driving forces was the rejection of the time he was living in. He was both a realist and a dreamer and on one occasion said "the leading passion of my life has been and is hatred of modern civilisation". He was a passionate social reformer and lectured on a wide range of subjects. William Morris's legacy remains with us today, and his many designs for fabrics and wallpapers are still just has popular.

His vision that beautiful things should be available to every one, at last coming true.

We are constantly updating any archive material that can be found on the potteries that we show. any new information will be gladly received, to share with fellow collectors. To view a potters history click on the links of each pottery above.